I saw a sign driving into work this morning “Littering Highway Unlawful.” I must be in the academic English world too much because my first thought was “that is not a sentence.” I know. I’m a nerd. But, there is something to be said for the “norm” of speech. If I think about British literature—or, as I thought of it as a student, the old literature—the style of writing is much different than today. In fact, I used to think that people walked around talking Shakespearean, or at the very least in long fluffy sentences. It wasn’t until I got to college that I started to learn the style of writing then did not match their spoken language.
It makes sense. In dialogue, we can write the way we speak to be “realistic,” although if an author goes too far then the “dialect” writing becomes frowned upon. For instance, I know Huckleberry Finn is highly proclaimed, but if he tried to publish that book today I think the editors/agents would reject it as being too hard to read. I even remember an English teacher saying Charles Dickens was not revered in his day because his prose was geared too much toward the population.
What does this have to do with the sign? I started to think about a major complaint starting about five years ago from English teachers I knew. Students were beginning to write essays using “text” language. OMG, etc. They weren’t capitalizing “I” anymore and there were no periods. When students didn’t understand a problem, they would write “IDK” (I don’t know). One teacher asked if that meant “I don’t care.” We told her maybe, but that would probably be IDC. I thought about the sign. It dropped one word for space. Although, does “is” really take a lot of space? We drop words for space in texting, which is becoming a larger form of communication. I even find myself dropping words on occasion for this blog. What’s worse is I don’t notice until I edit before posting.
So, I started wonder when/if the written word will “weaken” just as it did before. Another sign I passed said “Wrong way.” Do we really need the subject there? Or, does it work in context? In other words if you see it posted in front of a door, then the subject is implied? Maybe I’m the only one to wonder, but as authors push for authenticity, I am curious how much of our “modern” speech will ease into our novels.
Here’s one more thing to consider. Most authors are told to write to an 8th grade reading level because that is the average. I even read an article a few years ago that suggested it should now be the 5th grade reading level. If we are trying to capture more and more readers to gain a following, should we start writing the way they speak? I’m not sure how that would look in a novel, but it kind of frightens me to think about it.